A Good Fit: Challenges and Opportunities in the Drive for Workplace Wellness

LIFE AT WORK

If you work as, say, a professional athlete, the link between good health and good work is pretty clear. For the rest of us, however, it might not be so obvious.

After all, who among us hasn’t hauled ourselves to the office when we’d have been better off in bed. If you think about those days (staring blankly at your computer screen while wiping your nose), they probably weren’t among your most productive on the job.

Indeed, a recent CBRE report on workplace wellness finds that every year up to $227 billion is lost to employee absenteeism (when you’re out sick) or presenteeism (when you’re in the office, but not feeling well enough to work at your typical clip).

80 percent of employees say that company wellness programs would be key to attracting and retaining them over the next ten years.

From an employer’s perspective, this presents a definite opportunity to take an interest in their workers’ wellness. And as the makeup of the modern workforce changes, that incentive grows more still.

As the CBRE report notes, the workforce is aging in many Western countries. At the same time, despite increased lifespans, basic health has arguably declined in certain ways. Obesity, for instance, has almost doubled since 1980. These changes have important implications for employers, whether in terms of the aforementioned costs of absenteeism and presenteeism, or in terms of the rising cost of employee healthcare.

A focus on workplace wellness isn’t just about avoiding negative consequences, however. It can also prove a competitive advantage. According to the CBRE report, 80 percent of employees say that company wellness programs would be key to attracting and retaining them over the next ten years.

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Source: Wellness in the Workplace — Unlocking Future Performance

And reductions in employee turnover can significantly impact a company’s bottom line. For instance, according to a PwC analysis cited by the CBRE report, a financial services firm in the first phase of implementing its wellness program saved $2.7 million due to a 9 percent drop in employee turnover.

Retailer Marks & Spencer likewise saw a significant drop in sickness absenteeism (7 percent) in the first month of its wellness program.

Almost half the wellness features employees look for relate to the physical workspace.

One main aspect of corporate wellness programs is putting in place systems to reward healthy behaviors, such as boosting workers’ physical activity levels by offering perks like subsidized gym memberships and promoting behaviors like smoking cessation.

Real estate is also key as a person’s relationship to their built environment can play a large role in wellness. In fact, the CBRE report finds that “almost half the wellness features employees look for relate to the physical workspace.”

Such features can range from the very simple—opening blinds to ensure sufficient amounts of natural light—to more elaborate undertakings, such as installing advanced water purification systems, plant-based air cleaning and integrated cardiovascular equipment like treadmill desks.

Also important to the success of such programs is good data collection to bolster the financial case underpinning them. As the CBRE report cautions, workplace wellness programs “must demonstrate value or they risk being seen as expendable.”

This can be a challenge given the soft nature of wellness benefits, which don’t show up on your typical P&L report. “Establishing a good baseline of measures and tracking progress will help with this,” the CBRE report notes.

 

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